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Sleeping east of Baker after hiking in Nevada the previous day, I got up just before sunrise and drove more than two hours across the Mojave Desert, heading for the San Bernardino Mtns. I turned south at Barstow on SR247, then followed SR18 into the mountains towards Big Bear Lake. I had never been to this area before and didn't know what kind of conditions I would encounter in early June. Mostly I was hoping it wouldn't be too hot, and I wasn't disappointed.
Before reaching Big Bear, I pulled over to the shoulder of the highway southwest of Silver Peak, my first stop for the day. Like many HPS peaks, Silver Peak is rather tame, less than a mile and half from the road with less than a thousand feet of gain. Much of the land alongside the highway looks to be private property, and there appears to be some occupied buildings just north of the route I took, near the start. They are hidden in a small, sheltered canyon, and the more or less direct route I followed never came in sight of them until I was well up the mountainside. There is a great deal of junk strewn about the sandy dirt roads in the area, shotgun shell and bullet casings littering the ground, old appliances used for target practice and other crap that make the area look like, well, - like crap. Very unimpressive.
I followed an old road up to an abandoned mine on the south side of the mountain, not far up from its base. Mining equipment litters the road on the approach. The mineshaft is bored an unknown distance into the hillside and I left it unexplored other than a quick peek to see if I could see the bottom. There is a ducked route up the hillside starting behind the mine that I didn't find until I was coming down. Little matter, it is easy to climb anywhere up the slopes that have more of a desert flavor with cacti and yucca abounding, with scatterings of pines as well.
The summit, reached in less than an hour, was typical HPS fare, and really nothing special. There was another mineshaft at the summit along with a cairn housing the red cans of the HPS register. The register went back less than a month and I added my name at the bottom of the first page. After a short break to take some photos, I headed back down.
I took mostly the same route, taking advantage of the use trail down from the dirt road on the summit ridge. I took a short detour to view the possibly occupied buildings near the start, but saw no signs of life. Back at the van I continued driving towards Big Bear, stopping just inside the town limits for Big Bear City at a gated dirt road heading up towards Gold Mtn. My first effort had been to follow the HPS guide using the Holcomb Valley Rd north of Baldwin Lake. But I didn't get more than 50 feet past the dump at the end of the paved road when I started scraping rock under the van. So plan B was to find a way up from the south side, where I found myself after I'd parked.
The 7.5' Topo map I printed from www.mytopo.com showed a road, "location approximate" going up from the south side of the mountain. As I came to find, no such road exists (this phantom road is not shown on the NG TOPO! map I viewed later). The road I followed curved up into boulder fields above some ranch homes, with spur roads branching off in several locations. From all indications these roads were all used to access the rocks as a quarry, but none of them actually goes up the mountain more than about 400 feet (there is a 4x4 road that starts another mile east of where parked that does go all the way up the mountain for those looking for alternatives to the Holcomb Valley Rd). When I got to the end of the road and all its spurs, I simply headed straight up the boulders and talus, heading north for the peak. Like Silver, Gold Mtn is not very difficult and within the hour I had found my way to the rocky summit via the combination of cross-country and utilizing the old road found higher up that goes near the summit.
There was a register, a benchmark, and something new - a punch for recording your ascent of one of the "Seven Summits of Big Bear." A laminated placard explained this in vague detail. The website listed on the card was not well maintained and in perusing it later I was unable to get a simple list of what these "Seven Summits" were. Views were a bit hazy with Sugarloaf Mtn and San Gorgonio to the south, Big Bear Lake to the southwest, Silver Peak to the northeast, and dry Baldwin Lake to the east. Very hazy views of the Mojave could be had to the north. The descent was straightforward, taking little more than half an hour to get back to the car, more or less by the same route.
The last peak of the day was a more worthy objective, Sugarloaf Mtn. The trailhead for the Sugarloaf Trail was about a mile and a half in on a dirt road off SR38, negotiable by the van with slow driving. The trail is five miles one way, with almost 3,000ft of gain. It is located on the north side of the mountain as described in the HPS guide. It is not the easiest or shortest route to the summit, but the alternatives require more driving capabilities than my van possesses. For the most part, the trail follows an old road no longer open to vehicular traffic through pretty forest with some surprisingly large trees, not at all like the scraggily forests of Gold and Silver. I ran across a few other parties on the trail enroute to the summit, including a couple with a very well-behaved dog and a large Sierra Club party nearer to the summit (they were using the easier route). It took less than two hours to make it to the summit, helped in part by a more direct shortcut I took to the summit ridge, bypassing about a mile of the meandering road.
I was the only one at the summit when I arrived around 1:30p. There were pieces of pineapple rind littering the ground. The Sierra Club group left a nasty note in the register wishing the previous party would do a better job of picking up after themselves, but upon more careful reading it was obvious the pineapple was from another couple who had been to the summit the previous day, commenting how much they had enjoyed their pineapple treat. I collected the pieces in order to take them back down with me. The summit itself was decidedly non-plussed. It is broad and flat and full of trees with almost no views to be had anywhere. Several signs, one old and mutilated, the other new, adorned the summit.
The descent went pretty much the same way, taking an hour and a half to return to the trailhead. The Sierra Club party was just driving down the dirt road past the trailhead in their vehicles when I arrived. One of them stopped to check out the sign indicating the mileage to the summit. Another commented that five miles was a long way. I waved as they drove by. I drove back to Big Bear Lake and took a room at the Motel 6 there. Only $44 for singles mid-week - such a deal. The day had been a pretty weak one overall, but I hoped to make up for it the following day with a recreation of Rick Kent's 17 peak jaunt around San Gorgonio. I went to bed early in order to get a pre-dawn start.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Silver Peak - Gold Mountain - Sugarloaf Mountain
This page last updated: Mon Feb 2 16:30:05 2009
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